Author Joe Schreiber is probably best known as the man that brought horror to the Star Wars universe with his novel Death Troopers. He’s decided to bring his brand of chills to another universe we love quite a bit here at Dread Central: the world of the Winchesters and “Supernatural”.
With his first “Supernatural” novel, The Unholy Cause, he takes Sam and Dean down to Georgia, where they don’t exactly meet the devil, but they come awfully close. I was able to ask Joe a few questions about the book and his other work.
Mr. Dark: How familiar were you with the “Supernatural” world before you decided to write The Unholy Cause?
Joe Schreiber: Not very. I think I watched part of the pilot episode online a few years ago, “The Woman in White”. That was it. So when the opportunity to write this novel came along, I put myself through a crash course of scripts, season boxed sets, and episode guides until I had the tone and characters of the series down to my own satisfaction.
MD: You’ve done work in established universes before, and you have entirely original horror novels of your own. How does the pre-existing universe work compare to writing your own original books? Is it easier, harder?
JS: After the initial getting-to-know-you technicalities, it’s actually not all that different. The challenges are basically the same … crawling inside the narrative world, hanging the lights, and finding a way to make it fun for myself first and foremost. After that it doesn’t feel like work anymore — it’s like that point at a party when all the guests have arrived and the thing takes on a life of its own. But until you get to that point, it’s rat-bastard panic, where you’re like, “Is ANYBODY having a good time?”
MD: This novel clearly takes place during the current season of the show. How much detail about this season’s arc did they have to give you in order to ensure its proper place in the canon? How difficult was it to work within that tight framework (what had happened, what had yet to happen) before the season was finished and still tell your story?
JS: It wasn’t always easy. At one point, at the beginning of the season, Sam and Dean weren’t even together. I was like, how am I supposed to approach this? You’re like the child of divorced parents hoping it all works out. They were sending me drafts of scripts that hadn’t even been filmed yet, and we were all holding our breath and basically hoping for the best.
MD: How much room did you have to play in the “Supernatural” universe? Obviously you’re not going to haul off and kill Castiel or anything that dire, but you definitely got to add to some of the major elements of this season’s arc. Tell us a little about how you interacted with the folks from the show while laying out the plot for the book.
JS: If I had specific mythology questions along the way, I usually got answers pretty quickly from the production company — demons, ghosts, corpses, etc., what I could and couldn’t use — either because it wasn’t kosher, or they were planning on doing something similar themselves on the show. There were a few details that didn’t get corrected until I turned in my first draft and at least one night in a hotel room in Tulsa where I basically drank a six-pack of Blue Moon beer and beat my head against the desk trying to figure out how to explain the corner that I’d painted myself into … but in the morning it was all right.
MD: This story is based in the world of Civil War re-enactors and history buffs. What lead you to use that as the setting for the book?
JS: I really have no idea. To be honest, it may have come from a throwaway line from “The Simpsons” where Homer talks about being rich enough to have the Civil War re-enacted by monkeys. Or possibly not. Initially I tossed the idea out there thinking that nobody would like it, but it turned out to be the one that everybody liked, so I had to get serious about it.
MD: Without giving too much away, the Judas Knot and the whole concept of dark magical doings during the end of the Civil War play a major role in the novel. Where did you get the inspiration for those elements?
JS: I just really love the whole idea of ancient, esoteric religious arcana, the more far-flung, the better. For example, I got into this whole phase a few years ago for no good reason where I started tracking down places in the world that claimed to have pieces of the one true cross. There’s a lot of them. So I started trying to imagine some of the crazier things that could potentially be floating out there and trying to make them fit into this idea that I was desperately attempting to make work.
MD: I got the idea while reading the book that you enjoyed writing for Dean a little more than you enjoyed writing for Sam; am I right on that? Dean just seems to get all the best lines! (And rightly so … not that I have an opinion or anything.)
JS: That’s probably true. I’m not really sure. I do know that it’s always easier to write smartass dialogue than intelligent “straight” conversation. The two of them definitely riff off each other well in the show, and I tried to tune a ventriloquist’s ear in that direction.
MD: So far your novels have been horror tales, and you’ve also brought horror into the Star Wars universe, where it didn’t exist before. Are there any other existing properties you’d like to spice up with some thrills and chills?
JS: I’d like to do a Batman horror novel that takes place outside Gotham City with Bruce Wayne investigating some cold case, a girl’s disappearance, that leads him into some horrific small town ritualistic behavior. It would be like Bob Kane meets Shirley Jackson.
MD: Yes, please! What’s up next for you? Any thoughts of revisiting Sam and Dean in the future?
JS: Apparently there are going to be more “Supernatural” books coming up, so we’ll see. I’ve got another Star Wars horror novel coming out at the end of January, I know that. And about half a dozen unfinished books that I need to go back and either rescue or euthanize, depending. I’m perpetually backlogged that way.
MD: My traditional final question: What’s your favorite horror movie, and why?
JS: Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about The Descent. I watched it again with a friend, and listening to her scream in the scary parts was like being on performance enhancing drugs. There’s a lot to love about that movie.
Thanks to Joe for taking the time to talk to us! Be sure to check out our review of Supernatural: The Unholy Cause, and pick up the book directly from the EvilShop below!
– Mr. Dark
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